Used Boat Review: Buddy Davis 61
“Everything starts with the bottom hull shape, all other things—the tumblehome, the bow flare—are all derivative of the bottom, and it’s pretty damn effective.” —Carson “Buddy” Davis, 2001
How do you tell the story of a specific boat with the heritage of the Buddy Davis 61 and not include the community in which she was built? Answer is: You don’t. Wanchese, North Carolina, is located on Dare County’s Roanoke Island, which is situated between Croatian and Roanoke Sounds. This area of the North Carolina coast is known as the Outer Banks, a region that harbors communities with names like Kitty Hawk, Kill Devil Hills, Duck, Nags Head, Oregon Inlet, and, of course, Wanchese. As the names of these communities suggest, the Outer Banks is a rugged coastal area known for its outstanding fishing as well as its tough and talented fishermen.
A few of these fishermen have become boatbuilders over the years and most have adhered to the thinking of the fabled Willis Slane, founder of Hatteras Yachts, who was into boats that were capable of dealing with the harsh conditions that often prevail in the inlets that connect the Outer Banks with the wilds of the North Atlantic. But unlike Slane, who set up shop farther inland and took the Hatteras line to the masses, these builders stayed home and the boats they created became known worldwide for ruggedness below the waterline and total elegance above.
Buddy Davis, of course, was one of the earliest of the bunch. He studied his craft under the tutelage of the famed Warren O’Neal of O’Neal Boat Works, as well as other famous builders like Omie Tillet and Sheldon Midgett. Some credit should also go to South Florida builders Merritt and Rybovich who influenced Davis with a variety of design ideas and building techniques, among them wrapping diagonally-planked hulls with fiberglass and creating boats of cold-molded plyboard. The boatbuilding lives of Tillet, Midgett, and Davis were intertwined until 1973, when Davis left Midgett and formed Buddy Davis Boat Works.
Although Davis built boats traditionally at first, using diagonally planked juniper, in 1977 he began to experiment. Taking a tip from Rybovich, he switched to diagonally planked mahogany in 1978 and subsequently built four boats using this material. Then he shifted over to plyboard cold molding, a method perfected by Merritt. Then finally, in 1983, Buddy Davis Boat Works built a 47-footer and a 61-footer on a mold using Airex core and fiberglass. These two models eventually became the backbone of Buddy Davis Yachts, which was founded in 1984.
While visiting Buddy’s home in Marathon in 2001, I picked up on his fondness for the 61, quickly sensing that he felt she was the crown jewel of all the boats he had built to that date. For the boat’s design development, Davis acquired the professional assistance of the highly regarded naval architect, Donald L. Blount, founder of Donald L. Blount and Associates or DLBA for short. Blount was especially noted for his below-the-waterline expertise, so his talents with regard to speed and seakeeping were a perfect fit for the elegant above-the-waterline features all of Davis’s creations exhibit.
“We did virtually all of Buddy Davis’s composite boats,” Blount told Chris Landry of Soundings a few years ago (Talkin’ Boats with Donald Blount, April 2011). “Buddy Davis was the designer of record, he was the brains. He was the creative person. We did the engineering.”
When, a few years later, Landry asked Blount’s son Bill about the most notable boat DLBA had ever worked on or created (Talkin’ Boats with Bill Blount CEO, Donald L. Blount and Associates, April 2014), the younger Blount replied, “Certainly it would be a sportfisherman. It could go back to the Davis 61.”
There are plenty of reasons for this. The tumblehome that Davis so eloquently utilized in all his builds, for example, offers a secure feeling while working the deck. Whether you are waiting for a fish to run, backing down with a vengeance, or simply pulling in grouper from the bottom in rough water, Davis’s ample tumblehome acts like a soft wall at a NASCAR racetrack. The vicious slap you occasionally encounter from an angry sea condition is tamed.
The exaggerated bow flare and deep forefoot, both features that Davis’s boats are known for, soften head seas and redirect sea spray. Another aspect of the exaggerated bow flare adds a third virtue—an enormous foredeck that makes for a huge, uncompromised casting platform. Heck, if I had to describe the Davis 61 in three words they would be: beautiful, nimble, rugged, and fishable. Okay, four words!
In my personal experience, 55 to 65 feet is the perfect size boat for fishing. She’ll be large enough to handle most sea conditions, yet small enough to remain quick to maneuver. Space for crew and guests, food and beverages, and bait and tackle will be more than adequate. The Davis 61 offers all of the above with style and function.
Moreover, a good fishing boat also needs to provide great sightlines and the Davis 61 provides a full 360 degrees and a bird’s-eye view of the cockpit. If you have picked up on the fact that I like the Davis 61, you would be wrong. I love the Davis 61 and think it is just about the most perfect used fishing boat you can buy.
At the time of this writing, there were 14 Davis 61’s on the market, located in places like Venezuela, Puerto Rico, St. Martin, Michigan, Florida, and the Carolinas, a geographical spread that pretty much proves the desirable fishing attributes of the boat. Age and prices ranged from 1988 to 2001 and $199,500 to $1,579,000, which makes for a good variety to choose from.
Engine options and the related performance parameters are going to be fairly standard. With a set of 1,350-horsepower Caterpillar 3412 DITAs, the 61 will probably cruise at 24 knots and top out in the 28-knot vicinity. With 1,480-hp MTU 12V 2000s, you can expect a 27-knot cruise and a 34-knot top end. And with 1,050-hp Detroit Diesel 12V-92TIs, the cruise speed should be in the 22-knot range and the wide-open speed should be something like 26 knots.
Serious attention to detail is ever present on most all of Buddy’s boats, and the 61 is hardly an exception. Take a look at one or more of the engine rooms out there—you’ll likely see slick finishes that are easy to clean, oversized wire runs that smoothly accommodate extra owner-installed equipment, and unmatched access to all mechnicals for routine service and maintenance.
I’m thinkin’ the interiors will be equally impressive. You’ll see a variety of materials, from traditional teak to mahogany to UltraLeather, and the level of finish will be tops. For even more artistry, by the way, examine one of the 61’s storied “bubble helms,” with its miles-deep varnished-teak gloss and Palm Beach controls.
The sportfishing world lost Buddy in 2011, and I get weepy thinking about the very short time I was able to spend with him, whether at his Marathon home, on board one of his boats plying the waters he loved so well, sharing a few words at his place in Wanchese, or watching Super Bowl XXXVI in 2002 at a local Outer Banks pub. But as with many an artist who’s perished before his time, Buddy’s creations live on. Noah needed help with his next build, apparently. Buddy got the call.
Power & Motoryacht spoke to some brokers who have Buddy Davis sportfishing boats listed here on BoatQuest.com. Read what they had to say about these proven sea boats and the market for buying and selling them. ▶